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Review: Urban ambiguities

Andrew Holmes: Asphalt Paradise At the Laurent Delaye Gallery, 22 Barrett St, St Christopher's Place, London W1 until 17 April

It's the sheer beauty of Andrew Holmes' pictures that hits you - all those big American trucks with their shiny chrome exhaust-stacks and hub-caps and bumper-bars and strapped-on tanks of important but uncertain automotive function. Also the reflections: the convex elliptical ends of stainless-steel tanker-trailers and the highly polished rear doors of a refrigerator truck become mirrors for wonderfully distorted images. And the intricate detail of, for example, the rear ends of two heavily accessorised Honda motorbikes parked in front of the hedge and picket- fence of a desert restaurant, tarmac melting in the harsh heat.

Holmes is reckoned to be the most important British Photorealist artist. There is an odd quirk to this because his 'paintings' are actually coloured pencil drawings, and if there is something slightly perverse in using this unlikely medium when several of your preoccupations are with reflection and transparency, it is simply because it is the medium Holmes prefers, or started off with and couldn't be bothered changing or, just possibly, because it must be the most difficult medium somebody doing hyperealist work could choose. Holmes is just like that: careful, precise, necessarily a bit obsessive - and with a fabulous eye.

Like many artists, Holmes works from photographs, but during that mysterious eye-to-hand process he invests his ostensibly ordinary subjects with an extraordinary character. In his picture of an olive, black-topped coupe with a mangled rear end, you are conscious that beyond the old palm tree, and within the heavily textured stucco walls of a suburban Los Angeles house, some kind of Hopperesque domestic scenario is running its slow course.

Some of the drawings, particularly the trucks, are familiar from other shows. The new works indicate that Holmes is moving in the direction of a kind of abstraction in which the content is not so immediately explained, but detected only by examining the possible sources of the heavily distorted image which almost fills the frame. Back in the old days your aunties sought desperately to find faces and familiar shapes, things they could grasp, in that crazy abstract painting. Here, Holmes invites you to look into his distorted reflections for signs of the banal but ambiguous urban world over your shoulder.

Underlying all Holmes' work is a preoccupation with the city, especially Los Angeles, as an entity defined by its supply lines - which is to say its roads and those great trucks which use them to ship in everything for the city's life. So, on the first- and third-floor walls of the gallery are the trucks, and in between are a series of hypnotic video sequences played simultaneously on a number of screens, showing still and moving images of the Los Angeles periphery - asphalt paradise.

Sutherland Lyall is a journalist

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